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Batteries!! Clean Tech, Transportation, and a Renewable Future

June is a pretty big month for celebrating the natural world.  You could have a party every week this month with:

  • World Environment Day on June 5th
  • World Ocean Day on June 8th
  • Global Wind Day on June 15th, and
  • The Summer Solstice on June 21st

Of course sea, wind and sun celebration got me thinking about renewable energy (tidal, wind and solar power).  For years we’ve been working (although not as hard as we could) to get off fossil fuels by using renewable energy to power electric cars and provide electricity to our homes and offices.  In truth, there are a lot of things that still need to happen before that dream becomes reality.  But lately, I’m thinking we may be getting closer. We may have some things to celebrate this month.

Take recent developments in efforts to electrify transportation.

We seem to be on our way to solving one of the big barriers to electric vehicles (EVs): better batteries. Here’s a quote from Tam Hunt in a recent GreenTechGrid article about the future of EVs:

“The current holy grail for EV batteries is getting costs down to $100 per kilowatt-hour, down from $250 to $300 per kilowatt-hour today. The expectation is that at this cost, EVs can compete with internal combustion vehicles without subsidies. The exciting development in the last year is that not only is Tesla’s Musk saying that the firm hopes to reach this level in the next decade with production from its Giga factory, but that others are agreeing with him, including the Motley Fool, the independent financial research entity.”

But electric vehicles aren’t really a win if fossil fuels are burned to generate the electricity.  In fact, if all our cars were electric right now demand for dirty energy would crash the grid.  Current savings (so many puns, so little time) and avoidance of grid pressure come largely from load shifting – charging batteries up with cheaper off-peak energy.

But we won’t truly realize the benefit of electric vehicles until we are able to use renewables to generate the electricity.  The image of a solar farm parking lot with plug in stations comes to mind.  But even there, it’s only good when the sun is shining.

So here we are again: a core component to running vehicles on renewable energy is battery storage.  The Department of Energy recently highlighted the need for advances in battery technology to fill the missing link for most clean power technology. The tides, wind and sun do not produce energy on demand everywhere it’s needed. We need to be able to capture that energy, store it, and transport it to where it’s needed, when it’s needed.

This is why it’s hard to tell if a company like Tesla is a battery company or a car company.  It’s why Tesla recently teamed with Solar City to focus on home batteries for storing solar energy. And more power to them!

We also need to pay attention to our utility company regulation. There are lots of sunk costs in our electricity infrastructure that could impair our ability to make needed shifts to renewables. We need to advocate for changes in the way we subsidize our outdated systems and fuel sources so we can get where we need to go!

Only when we combine better battery technology with more distributed and affordable renewable energy generation, will we be able to realize the true power of EVs.  So if you’re thinking about buying an EV and load shifting to charge it with a home or office battery pack, think about advocating for affordable renewables, too!

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